September 28, 2023

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Watch live: SpaceX launches its sixth crewed mission in two years tonight

Watch live: SpaceX launches its sixth crewed mission in two years tonight
Zoom / The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are ready for launch of NASA’s Crew-4 mission.

Trevor Mahleman

On Monday afternoon, a Crew Dragon spacecraft was named quest Scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. Now, less than two days later, SpaceX and NASA are preparing another Crew Dragon for launch.

Monday’s landing brought back a crew of four special astronauts 17 day space trip Sponsored by Axiom Space Private. Since that craft’s return, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stitch said the space agency and SpaceX engineers have been “data-checking” about the performance of the Dragon as it returns through the atmosphere.

“It was a very clean ride overall, without major issues,” Stitch said Tuesday morning during a news conference with reporters. “The team looked at a lot of data, and they had the opportunity to review everything. They looked at the thermal protection system. They looked at a lot of GNC (guidance, navigation and control) data from the flight. The parachutes were obviously very clean this flight. All the main lines opened up completely, almost in unison, with no sign of any slackening this time, which is great.”

NASA officials were confident enough in Dragon’s performance to clear a new crew capsule for the Crew Dragon, freedom, for launch at 3:52 a.m. ET (07:52 UTC) Wednesday morning from the Kennedy Space Center. This Crew-4 flight will carry Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines, mission specialist Jessica Watkins, and all NASA astronauts, as well as ESA mission specialist Samantha Cristoforetti to the station. The weather looks good at both the launch site and the low-lying abort areas.

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Five days later freedom With the space station, the four members of the Crew-3 mission that launched in November will begin their journey back to Earth. This five-day delivery will ensure the continued presence of NASA astronauts on the space station.

The return of Crew-3 will mark the completion of SpaceX’s sixth human spaceflight in less than two years. “This is really cool, because all of this has been done through the pandemic,” Jessica Jensen, Vice President of Customer Operations and Integration at SpaceX, said Tuesday morning.

SpaceX now has a fleet of four Crew Dragon vehicles: questAnd steadfastnessAnd EnduranceAnd freedom. Company officials have said, for now, that SpaceX has no intention of building more Crew Dragons. On Monday, the company’s director of human spaceflight programs, Benji Reed, said he believes SpaceX can currently support up to six human spaceflights annually. Here is a possible breakdown of those tasks:

  • Two flights from NASA to the International Space Station (until Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is operational, after which that number will be one)
  • Two special astronaut missions to the International Space Station, supported by Axiom Space or other private companies
  • Two free flight missions, such as Inspiration4 and Polaris flights

Jensen said SpaceX is determined to continue to safely move humans into space despite the rapid transformation. “As exciting and busy as everyone is talking, I just want to reiterate that safety is still and always is the top priority,” she said.

The webcast below should begin at midnight ET, or 04:00 UTC on Wednesday.

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Crew-4 webcast launch